“Why?” The Number One Question Marketers Need to Ask

Never stop asking “why” until you gain the clarity you need to sell a product or service

Why are you in business? Is it to provide customers with personalized products found nowhere else? If so, according to the ideas presented in Simon Sinek’s book, Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, you just might have missed the mark on really understanding what motivates your customers to buy.

According to Sinek, gaining clarity on why you are in business and communicating your purpose to employees inspires and motivates them to do their best work. That’s because they believe in the vision.

Additionally, putting the “why” in your marketing message motivates customers to do business with you because they identify with your purpose. Customers want to do business with people they know, like and trust.

Customers want to do business with people they know, like and trust.

Communicating the “why” of your business contributes to this because customers are attracted businesses they believe in.

But this process of starting with why can also improve the way you interact with customers when it comes to marketing and business development.

Here’s how.

Knowing The Danger In Status Quo

According to the Harvard Business Review, decision makers have a strong bias toward “alternatives that perpetuate the status quo.” This is a danger because decisions then become less objective.

Those who have been in business for a while have a tendency to stick with the road frequently traveled in terms of marketing methods, terminology used and other habits developed over time. Questioning the “why” of keeping these practices going can shed light on where change is needed in order to break from traditions that no longer serve business growth.

Gain Insight Into the Customer’s Story

Many businesses already use the practice of asking “why” to get to the root of problems that prevent positive customer experiences. The focus is getting it right for the customer. As you market your business, examine your current mode of operation to determine if it is really customer-facing.

For example, to get a handle on the market:

  • Do you attend the same trade shows over and over because it’s easier that way?
  • When pitching to customers, do you shower them with jargon they don’t understand, only because it’s built into the standard company presentation?
  • Do you interact with customers in the same way you always have, or have you embraced the social and digital platforms they use?

The same process can apply to customer interactions. Having a “why” conversation can help you see and understand the customer’s whole story or the root causes of issues. You can then make better decisions about product or services. This type of customer engagement goes well beyond your normal mode of marketing, because what you offer takes a back seat to why you exist.

Understand How Your Customer Makes Decisions

Consumers are smart and savvy. You cannot rely on the same way of doing business to reach them. If you want a potential customer to say yes to your products or services, you must ask yourself the tough questions.

According to Mentor Works LTD, “why” questions force more analytical thinking, engaging customers at a higher level, “where solutions to chronic issues or discovery of new opportunities are more easily found.” These results are not likely doing business as usual.

Asking “Why” Is Tough, but Necessary

Questioning why things have always been done a certain way can be difficult, but worthwhile. According to Reliable Plant, not getting to the “why” can lead to a misunderstanding about the real issues customers face, or lead to responses without much substance.

One reason for the difficulty in asking “why” questions, says Reliable Plant, is the tendency to associate this type of questioning with being confrontational. But, if you want to fully expand your business reach, it is necessary to overcome that obstacle.

Starting the “Why” Dialogue

Starting this dialogue is all about taking a deeper look at your business for the sake of better marketing. Since this type of questioning can be off-putting, you must create a culture that is safe for your team to raise questions.

Ease into the process by asking open-ended questions that require more than a yes or no answer. Then, explore the answers with “why” questions such as:

  • Why do you consider that important?
  • Why did you base your decision on that information?
  • Why do you want to take this avenue?

As times change, so should your marketing message. The status quo can be a risky place to reside when it comes to improving customer reach. Start the change by asking “why.”


Charlie Riley is a marketing, business development and communications professional with experience across multiple industries. Follow Charlie on Twitter at @charlieriley or connect on LinkedIn.